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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Despite the Misfortunes of 2020: To be Thankful on Thanksgiving


Speak of adding insult to injury. Literally it will rain on our parade tomorrow. (Okay, it is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it is part of our Thanksgiving tradition to watch some of it.) It is one more disheartening aspect of 2020, with the pandemic still raging and with the prospect of the governor designating more and more parts of the state, particularly in the City and on Long Island, as yellow, orange, or red zones. Oy. Our sense of gratitude is being tested as we approach a day on which we should acknowledge the blessings in our lives.


Perhaps we need to be reminded of the first thanksgiving. Next year will be its quadricentennial. The date of the first Thanksgiving is lost to history; it was a harvest festival sometime in the fall, probably in September or October rather than November. The first year in the new world was not kind to the Pilgrims: of the 102 who landed in Massachusetts, only 52 were alive to celebrate: a frigid winter, drought, attacks by the locals, and disease had diminished their numbers. In the words of Rabbi Barbara Aiello, “it was year of tsuris.” And yet, as fall came, and with it a first harvest, the Pilgrims sat down to feast—it was a multi-day celebration-- and gave thanks for their survival and for their food. (It is still debated whether turkey was part of that first Thanksgiving.). William Bradford, who would serve as 2nd governor of the colony, included in his journal in connection with that celebration, several apposite verses from Psalm 107:

“Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good: and his mercies endure forever.” “Yes, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness and his wonderful works before the sons of men.”


For most of us, this year’s Thanksgiving will be significantly different from ones we have marked in years past. Some of us have had losses which have left empty spaces at the table and in our hearts. Moreover, with social distancing and limits on travel, for the most part we are reduced to phone calls, Skype, “WhatsApp” chats, and Zoom to join with family and friends. (Fortunately, we are no longer in the era of costly long-distance calls.) And yet, despite some limited shortages in the markets, I dare say that we have abundant bounty of food on hand with which to feast (and no doubt, a supply of some fine wine and liquor to go with it the food on our groaning tables.) Furthermore, in spite of the darkness of the moment, we can begin to see a dim light at the end of this long tunnel. The prospect of the impending roll-out of vaccines against the virus—with a salute to the researchers who in record time have produced these life-saving solutions—provide us with hope that a year from now masks and social distancing will be things of the past, and that our lives will return to “normal.” In short, even in the midst of this pandemic, we can pause on this Thanksgiving and be grateful for the many blessings in our lives.


In the words taken from the Amidah, the silent devotion, V’al Kulam Yitbarach V’yitromam Shimchah…For all these blessings we shall ever praise and exalt You, our Sovereign. Amen.


Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.


P.S. For an interesting piece on the Jewish background of the proposed nominee for Secretary of State, Tony Blinken:


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Chadashot MeYisrael News From Israel


Can Aging Be Reversed? A Promising Israeli Treatment


Is breathing deeply the solution for aging? It may be so, if one is breathing deeply high-pressure oxygen.


A recent study published in Aging, reveals the efforts of Professor Sahi Efrati of the Sackler School of Medicine and his colleague Dr. Amir Hadanny, chief medical research officer of the Sagol Center of Hyberbaric Medicine and Research. 35 healthy adults aged 64 and up were subjected to a series of 60 hyperbaric sessions over a period 90 days. Blood samples were examined before, during, and at the conclusion of the treatments. The researchers discovered that there was a lengthening in the telomeres of immune cells. (The shortening of telomeres is linked to the aging process.) Moreover, there was a decrease in the nonfunctioning senescent cells.


According to Efrati, while researchers have been seeking to develop pharmacological and environmental means of elongating telomeres, the protocol the Israeli team has developed demonstrated “that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level.” Dr. Hadanny further noted: “With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT [Hyberbaric Oxygen Treatment] and its potential for reversing the aging process.


The treatment was undertaken in a multi-seat hyperbaric chamber, rather the one-person tanks with which many people are familiar. Currently the protocol is available in Israel at the Sagol Center, located at the Shamir Medical Center, some 10 miles south of Tel Aviv and at the Villages, in Florida. (Professor Efrati is chair of the medical advisory board of Aviv Scientific, owner of the Aviv Clinics, and Dr. Hadanny serves as the company’s researcher.)


Efrati and Hadanny have engaged in several other studies on the benefits of HBOT. For example, back in June, they published a study that demonstrated that HBOT in healthy people 60 and older caused cognitive enhancements in attention, information processing speed, and executive functions.






Payrush LaParashah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Vahyeahtsay (Genesis 30:14- 31:16) is read this Saturday, November 28th.


30:14 Once, at the time of the wheat harvest, Reuben came upon some mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” (15) But she said to her, “Was it not enough for you to take away my husband, that you would also take my son’s mandrakes?” Rachel replied, “I promise, he shall lie with you tonight, in return for your son’s mandrakes.”


30:15 “Was it not enough for you to take away my husband…” She said this because Jacob had seen that Leah had stopped giving birth and he thought that she was no longer fertile [she had given him her maidservant to have more children with him], [and therefore] he decreased the frequency of sleeping with her [Leah] and focused on having sex with Rachel who was his favorite and had yet to give birth and expected that she would get pregnant. Consequently, Leah said to her [Rachel], “was it not enough for you to take away my husband” so that you get pregnant, for he is always with you for this reason and not with me, as it was previously. And now you want to take my son’s mandrakes so that you become pregnant faster? (Don Isaac Abarbanel in Otzar Rishonim: Beresheet. Isaac Abarbanel [there is an on-going debate as to whether the family name was Abarbanel or Abravanel] was born in 1437 in Lisbon, to a family that had fled Castile in1391, in the wake of the unrest that devastated the Jewish community. By the age of 20, he was already writing scholarly works on philosophy and prophecy. His fiscal acumen attracted the attention of King Alfonso V, who he served his until the latter’s death in 1481. Accused of associating with an enemy of the new monarch, he was forced to flee in 1483 and established himself in Castile, where he initially devoted himself to writing a commentary on Joshua, Judges, and Samuel. But he was soon again in the service of the local court, serving along with Abraham Senior as tax farmer and provisioning the army of Queen Isabella. In 1492, he unsuccessfully offered a huge sum to the king and queen to overturn the edict of expulsion. Having failed, he went into exile and made his way to Naples where he served the young king, Alfonso, until his death in 1495. After sojourns in Corfu and Monopoli [town in southeastern Italy, near Bari], Abarbanel finally settled in Venice in 1503, where he remained until his death in 1508. However, he was buried in Padua. Unfortunately, because the Jewish cemetery was destroyed the following year during the siege of the city, his gravesite remains unknown. He was the author of commentaries on 2/3 of the Bible. They were all published posthumously: “The Early Prophets”—Joshua through Kings—appeared in 1511; the “Latter Prophets” was issued in 1520, and his commentary on the Torah was finally published in 1579. The comment here represents one of his shorter ones; brevity was not his style. His commentaries indicate knowledge of Christian exegesis, which with rare exception, is generally rejected. It should be further noted that his proximity to monarchies shaped his comments on biblical passages dealing with kings. Over and above his biblical commentaries he penned several philosophical texts, such as Rosh Amanah [The Pinnacle of Faith], which was a defense of Maimonides’ 13 Articles of Faith. 3 works focusing on Messianism appeared during his lifetime: Ma'yanei ha-Yeshu'ah [The Wellsprings of Salvation] which was published in 1496 and was a commentary on the Book of Daniel; Yeshu'ot Meshicho [The Salvation of His Anointed] an interpretation of rabbinic literature about the Messiah, which was printed the following year; and Mashmi'a Yeshu'ah  [Announcing Salvation], which appeared  in 1498 and was  a commentary on the messianic prophecies in the prophetical books. Among other works are commentaries on the Haggadah and Pirke Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers.)






Questions for Vahyeahtsay 5781 (Genesis 30:14-31:16)


  1. What are mandrakes and what medicinal benefits do they offer?
  2. What was the nature of the relationship between Leah and Rachel? Between Leah and Jacob?
  3. How many children did Leah produce for Jacob?
  4. Is the name given to Leah’s daughter a positive or negative one?
  5. Shouldn’t Rachel’s first son have been named Asaf, referencing the removal of her infertility?
  6. What was Jacob’s compensation package for continuing to tend Laban’s flocks?
  7. Are there really speckled sheep?
  8. How did Jacob finesse the arrangement? Do peeled strips of wood really affect genetics? How did Jacob con the con artist, Laban?
  9. In addition to all of his colorful sheep and goats, what other signs of wealth did Jacob acquire while living with Laban?
  10. Why does Jacob decide to return home: because he wasn’t getting along with his brothers-in-law, because Laban didn’t look upon him favorably, or because God told him to return to the land of his ancestors?
  11. Why does Jacob confer with Leah and Rachel out in the field? Was his tent bugged?
  12. Why does Jacob assign to God his good fortune, rather than his own efforts?
  13. In verse 31:3 God speaks to Jacob about returning home. In 31:11 an angel in a dream bids him likewise. Is this duplication or a different way of telling his wives of his divine encounter?
  14. Why are Leah and Rachel ready to leave home?



Tue, December 1 2020 15 Kislev 5781